Thursday, October 14, 2021

Healing Light

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have mentioned it before in this blog. I have had this condition all my life. Long before they had a name for it and before I was diagnosed by a physician, I can recall having the symptoms of SAD as a pre-teen. It is caused by a drop in serotonin levels in the brain due to a decrease in exposure to sunlight. It is the price I pay for living in the northern hemisphere.

Every autumn it creeps up on me as the days grow shorter. It is worst during the holidays as the winter solstice arrives.  This year it came on earlier than normal.  I could feel the effects of decreasing sunlight before Labor Day, while the weather was still very warm. Long before most people were thinking about winter, my emotions alerted me that I needed to address the situation.

My primary care physicians have prescribed Vitamin D and medication every fall and winter for years. A few years ago I started light therapy. It a full spectrum lamp which simulates sunlight and helps regulate the circadian rhythm. Every night when it gets dark I turn on a special lamp next to my chair as I read, write or watch television. It works wonders. The symptoms disappear in a few days, and stay gone as long as I remember to use the lamp every night.

Recently I have been thinking about the theological implications of light therapy. Light is a well-known symbol in spiritual traditions. Many religions find significance in the winter and summer solstices. Stonehenge gives archeological testimony of the antiquity of this practice. There is a reason spiritual awakening is called “enlightenment.” It is no accident that the original date for Christmas was the winter solstice and the definitive event of Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus – occurs at dawn.

Light is a fascinating phenomenon. It travels at the outer limit of speed. Nothing can move faster than light. As one approaches the speed of light, time slows down. Theoretically if one could travel at the speed of light, time would stop. That means that light is timeless – a fitting symbol for eternity.

“God is Light,” wrote the apostle John, “and in him/it there is no darkness at all.” “I am the Light of the World,” said Jesus. He made that statement immediately before healing a man blind since birth. Christ is healing light. Revelation describes the New Heavens and Earth as having no night. There is no need for the sun in the New Jerusalem for God is the Light.

Light includes all colors within it, which become visible when separated by a prism, producing a rainbow, another religious symbol. In that sense light is the One manifested as the Many. Light is the first of God’s creations according to the Genesis creation story. 

Light is healing for me. It physically bestows peace to me. It brings wholeness to mind and body. It restores me to who I am.  Because of its healing effect on me, light feels like home. Maybe that is the attraction of sunrises and sunsets. Nothing soothes my soul more than dawn at the lakeside, when the water is at perfect peace.

Light not only feels like home, it feels like who I am. Jesus said it: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine!” This is more than a metaphor. He is talking about our original nature. Astronomer Carl Sagan famously remarked that humans are made of “star stuff.” He meant that the elements of our physical bodies were formed in the interior of stars.

We are more than star stuff. We are star light. That is what we essentially are. Jesus knew that about himself. That is what he meant when he said, “I am the Light of the world.” He was not speaking exclusively of himself. He said it was true of us as well. We are light. We were light before our sun was born. So let your light shine! 

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